The Do-It-Yourself Bicycle

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In Short: What if we could manufacture our daily products at home? Just a crazy idea or a possible future manufacturing paradigm? A group of five students of TU Berlin investigated the potentials of home manufacturing with the example of the bicycle. Their challenge: to design and construct a bicycle that can be produced “at home”. After three months of brainstorming, they came up with the modular “Do-It-Yourself bicycle”. Here’s the story.

Supported by the increasing knowledge sharing capabilities and by low-cost production machines (above all 3D-printers) emerges the idea a new manufacturing paradigm – peer-production. Production of physical goods, up to now, has been reserved to companies and specialists, but now becomes available to any interested person. Communities of volunteers can collaborate on a global scale to generate designs that are usable by everybody and can be freely manufactured at a local scale. So far only an idyllic idea, this paradigm has several advantages in terms of sustainability. First, it supports local production. It therefore promotes local economic dynamism and short supply chains. Furthermore, it supports repair and manufacturing as well as a better adaptation of products to user needs, thus promoting a material efficient economy of goods.

In order to test the feasibility of this paradigm on the bicycle branch, five students of the Technical University Berlin set out on the complicated mission to design and build a bicycle that can be assembled “at home”. First consequence of this constraint was: only commercially available parts like aluminum profiles and standard bike parts could be used. Second consequence: only the processes that can be performed with commonly used tools are allowed (e.g. drilling, sawing) as well as 3D-printing. Last constraint: in order to allow the bicycle to be freely adapted by users and to be dismounted at its end of life, reversible processes (e.g. screwing) shall be preferred.

After agonizing over the challenge for weeks, the students came up with the modular “Do-It-Yourself Bicycle” – a completely functioning bicycle that concedes nothing to other bicycles (see illustrations). Its frame is completely made out of standard aluminum parts and can be disassembled entirely. That way, it can be easily refitted to changing user needs, just like a set of Lego bricks. And theoretically, there are infinite ways of customization. According to the students, the DIY-bicycle can be assembled within four hours by non-professionals. The next step consists of making the blueprints and construction documentation available online to enable everybody to make their own modular aluminum bicycle.

Still, the performances of the product have to be further explored and the relevant accompanying business models and usage scenarios are still to be defined. Furthermore, the entire bicycle cannot be made only out of home-fabricated material, but is rather the assembly of manufactured half-products considered just as Lego bricks. Hence, the bicycle is not strictly speaking DIY. Nevertheless, by prototyping a first DIY-bicycle, this project has demonstrated that such a local value creation is possible.

This project is one example of creative research on DIY and bicycle that is led within the Collaborative Research Center 1026 “Sustainable Manufacturing – Shaping Global Value Creation”. Other concepts are also explored, like the manufacturing of standard fixtures so that people can assemble bicycle frames made of bamboo by themselves. Altogether, these examples demonstrate possible future sustainable manufacturing patterns.

This project has been led in collaboration with Cycle en Transitions (FR) and with the help of the self-help bike workshop FAHRbar (DE).


Download PDF: The Do-It-Yourself Bicycle